I’m never satisfied with my bourbon collection. I’m always looking at it and thinking, “Why don’t I have X yet?” One of the bourbons at the top of that list is George T. Stagg, an almost-impossible-to-find part of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. (Heck, come to think of it, all five whiskies in that collection fall under that category, but that’s a Booze Blog for a later date.)
Although I have not yet been able to procure my own bottle, I did get the chance to sample some at Adam Carmer’s Whiskey Attic. This particular bottle was 140-plus proof, and while it had ample amounts of heat, it was one of the smoothest, most luscious pours I’ve ever enjoyed. There is some considerable skill put into these bottles—it’s hard to find for a reason.
Luckily, those of us looking for GTS now have an alternative, much more easily acquired bourbon: Stagg Jr., a younger version of its, uh, father. It is made several times during the year (unlike GTS, which is released once a year in very limited quantities), and while it’s not the beast GTS is, Stagg Jr. ranges in proof from 128.7 to 134.4. It’s also much cheaper, about 50 bucks a bottle, depending on where you buy it (You aren’t getting GTS for less than $100).
Since finding my first bottle of Stagg Jr. a few months ago, I’ve bought a bottle every time I see it on the shelf. I’ll be blunt: It’s nowhere near the complex genius GTS is (very few whiskies ever will be), but it’s easily the best bourbon in its price range. The burn is much more prevalent than with GTS; in fact, this is one of the few whiskies I would recommend adding a splash of water to. It demands your instant respect, but once you’ve been properly introduced and gone through a brief courtship period, you’ll find this one of the most distinctive pours around. It’s deeply flavored and offers strong notes of brown sugar and caramel. It's not subtle, but after a few sips you won't be complaining.
In this price range, the only thing that comes close to Stagg Jr. is Booker’s, but Booker’s is just a hair more expensive. Newbies are not encouraged to start here, but for those who know every bourbon on the shelf, get to know Stagg Jr. sometime soon. Think of it as the ultimate primer for finding that elusive bottle of George T. Stagg.